blog home Drug Possession California Is Combatting Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences

California Is Combatting Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences

By San Diego Attorney on February 5, 2024

Hands holding the bars of a jail cell.

A core tenet of the U.S. justice system is the concept that “the punishment should fit the crime.” When this is violated, we see what we commonly call “injustice.” The 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution followed the spirit of this principle when it established the need to abolish any “cruel and unusual punishments.” As the public struggle to achieve equitable justice continues, California is taking steps to combat mandatory minimum drug sentences. These reforms also take into consideration the creation of a safer society; justice must consider the rehabilitation of the alleged criminal if recidivism is ever to end.

Understanding Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences

A mandatory minimum drug sentence is an assigned minimum punishment that must be ordered by a judge for certain crimes. It gives no leeway and is uniformly applied across all cases that fall into a particular category. For example, if the mandatory minimum sentence for felony drug possession was five years in prison, the judge in such a case would have to order this punishment without any consideration for if it were too harsh, if it was a first offense, or any other aspects to the nature of the crime.

Mandatory minimum sentences were inspired by the “War on Drugs.” This was initiated by U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1971 when he declared drugs to be “public enemy number one.” Massive amounts of funding were allocated to the cause by his administration and others who followed his lead. Under President Ronald Reagan, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 was passed, earmarking $1.7 billion to fund the “War on Drugs” and establishing mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses.

Drawbacks of Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences

Over time, advocates for criminal justice have come to find many shortcomings in mandatory minimum sentences. The downsides include:

  • Disproportionate impact on non-violent offenders. Drug crime offenders who were otherwise not involved in a violent act are made to suffer the same consequences as violent offenders.
  • Erosion of judicial discretion. While judges may decide what punishment fits the crime in other cases, when it comes to mandatory minimum sentences, their hands are tied. Even when they feel probation, rehab treatment, or a lesser punishment would be equitable.
  • Harmful societal consequences. While mandatory minimum sentences were intended to deter crime, they ended up filling jails with non-violent offenders while often preventing them from being able to receive the needed rehabilitation.
  • The disproportionate incarceration of Black and Brown people. Because of gaps in the way drug possession charges were sentenced for different drugs of choice, it resulted in an unequal incarceration rate of non-violent Black drug offenders. This contributed to claims that the War on Drugs was deliberately racist.

California’s Drug Policy Reform Efforts and the Positive Effects

With the help of public opinion and advocacy groups across California, the need for criminal justice reform became clear. Since January 2021, California has stopped using mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses. This development in drug policy reform helps to:

  • Reduce incarceration rates
  • Improve focus on rehabilitation over penalization
  • Address racial and socioeconomic disparities in sentencing
  • Allow judicial discretion, matching the punishment to the crime

Have You Been Accused of a Drug Crime in San Diego?

Drug crime charges can be difficult to face due to their attached social stigma and potentially life-altering consequences. But at jD Law Criminal Defense Attorneys, we do not believe that heavy punishments and years in prison is the answer; rehabilitation is.

If you have been accused of a drug crime in San Diego, experienced trial lawyer James N. Dicks is here to assist you at this challenging time and help you face your charges with confidence. You deserve a second chance and the opportunity to change your life.

Call us at (760) 630-2000 today for a free evaluation of your case. We speak English and Spanish.

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Posted in: Drug Possession

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